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THE CONSEQUENCES OF 1848.
THE extraordinary events which agitated continental Europe in the early months of 1848 naturally made a strong impression on the people of this kingdom. In Great Britain, where the commercial crisis of the previous autumn had thrown multitudes out of employment, the people were easily persuaded that their social advancement could readily be secured by political changes. In Ireland, the calm which had been temporarily established by Lord Clarendon's administration was ruffled by the fall of Louis Philippe. The discontented resumed their agitation ; their leaders sent a deputation to M. Lamartine to beg for the sympathy and aid of France; their organs used language inciting to violence; Lord Clarendon declared that civil war was imminent; and Lord John, moved by these circumstances, on March 30 drew up the following memorandum :—
STATE OF IRELAND. March 30, 1848.
The increasing danger of an outbreak in Ireland, and the prospect of the misery it would occasion, make it necessary for the Government to give their urgent attention to such measures as may be best calculated for such a crisis. Lord Clarendon points out the humanity and the economy of immediate steps, but it may be doubted whether those he suggests are sufficient to meet the evil. I will not point out here the quick spread of disaffection, the equal danger of trials for high treason and of leaving at large the instigators to rebellion, the misery prevailing in the country, the heavy rates now levied, the position of the Roman Catholic clergy, the successful risings of Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Milan, and Sicily. It is sufficient to glance at these things. But to the course to be adopted. We might suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, and call out yeomanry or volunteers from the North.
But this would be to rely entirely on the Protestants, and would probably unite the whole Roman Catholic population against us. We might proceed in our present course, only adding measures of conciliation to our present prosecutions. But it seems to me that this course would give an open road to the conspirators, and allow them to mature their plans. I should therefore propose— 1. That a Bill be brought in to control ejectments, on the principle I have already stated to the Cabinet. 2. That the repayments made to the Government upon the loans of the two last years be laid out in further loans, as already agreed upon between Sir Charles Wood and the Irish members. 3. That a million in Exchequer Bills be advanced to the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners for the purpose of making useful works in Ireland, especially works of drainage. 4. That the Habeas Corpus Act be suspended for one year. 5. That a sum of 400,oool, a year be levied by a land-tax in Ireland, and paid over to the Roman Catholic members of the Bequests Commission, to be laid out by them, either in the purchase of glebe houses and glebe lands, or in the payment of the parish priests of Ireland. I have made these propositions large and decided, as I do not believe that less will suffice for a disease so deep-seated and so threatening. I say nothing of the Landlord and Tenant Bill. It may go to a select committee, but I cannot expect any real good from it. J. RUSSELL.
Thus, in March 1848, Lord John was again reverting to the policy which he had desired in the previous autumn ; and proposing to couple a large measure of precaution with still larger measures of conciliation and reform. But he soon found that difficulties, which were almost insurmountable, interfered with this policy. The Cabinet—or at any rate the four members of it, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Palmerston, Lord Grey, and Sir C. Wood, whose opinions are preserved— agreed that his minor recommendations were desirable if they were practicable. But they leaned to the opinion that any interference with the right of ejectment would require to be very carefully guarded ; and that any proposal for the endowment of Roman Catholicism should only be made after previous concert with the head of the Roman Catholic
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Church. Remedial legislation, on large and broad foundations, was for the moment impossible. Protective legislation was almost equally difficult. Lord Clarendon, writing on the 1st of April, told Lord John that, if Parliament would at once assent to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, he thought the time was ripe for this measure; but he waived his demand for it because in the opinion of the Cabinet the Bill could not be carried without long and protracted debates. Thus the condition of Ireland naturally excited grave anxiety; and on the 3rd of April, Lord Jocelyn, who was acting with the knowledge both of Lord Clarendon and of Lord John, drew public attention to it. He said—
I believe there is not a single man in this House who has not seen with indignation and disgust the language of certain mischievous and traitorous men ; avowedly with the object of overturning the institutions of the country—avowedly with the object of levying war upon her Majesty's Crown, by exciting to overt acts of rebellion her Majesty's subjects in that country. I believe it is with similar feelings that the public of this loyal country have seen that men have been found in Ireland so void of their own and of all national honour as to be at this moment seeking in a foreign country for foreign arms to carry out their traitorous purposes. . . . I would ask the noble Lord whether he thinks that there is sufficient power still vested in the Government to crush in its birth this rebellious spirit; or whether he does not think that the time has come . . . when it is the duty of Parliament to give the Executive Minister in Ireland power to enable him to meet with vigour and effect whatever the emergency may require.
Lord John replied—
It is quite true that language of the nature described has been used in Ireland—language exciting to rebellion against the Crown . . . with a view to establish Ireland as a separate nation independent of the Crown of these realms . . . That language has been followed by the manufacture of pikes, by the formation of rifle clubs, and various other preparations, which are openly avowed by the press of that country with a view of creating a civil war in Ireland. . . . It is, however, a most difficult and most delicate matter for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to consider what steps he should take. . . . I hope I need not assure the House that, whilst the Lord Lieutenant is anxious to put down disaffection and rebellion, it is his earnest wish
to listen to complaints, and to apply, so far as is in his power, a remedy or an alleviation to any distresses or evils that exist. , . But the noble Lord may rest assured that it is the full determination of her Majesty's Government, having the utmost confidence in Lord Clarendon, and in his administration of public affairs, to do all that is in their power to support the law in Ireland, and maintain the peace of that country; and, furthermore, that we shall not shrink, should it prove necessary so to do, from asking this House for the grant of any further powers that may be requisite.
This reply gave great satisfaction to Lord Clarendon, who at once thanked Lord John for his 'stout declaration. It gave less satisfaction to Conservative politicians, who then, as ever, thought that the true remedy for Irish discontent was English coercion. But, as a matter of fact, the Cabinet was already deliberating on the powers which the disturbed condition of Ireland made necessary; and four days afterwards Sir George Grey introduced a measure, which is known in history as the Crown and Government Security Bill, by which the provisions of an Act of 1796, introduced by Mr. Pitt, and of an Act of 1817, carried by Lord Castlereagh, were extended to Ireland. By the advice of Lord Campbell, offences against these Acts were declared to be not treason but felony, punishable with transportation ; but
A new provision of unprecedented severity was imported into the law, and any person who, by open and advised speaking, compassed the intimidation either of the Crown or of Parliament, was made guilty of felony.
To the first portion of this Bill no one raised any objection. It applied to Ireland a law which was already in force in England; and it mitigated the savage punishment awarded to high treason. To the second part of it grave objections Were at once made. It was resented as an interference with the liberty of speech, and Lord John was constrained to promise that its duration should be limited. With this concession the Bill became law. But before it actually passed, at the end of April, the tension in Ireland had become less severe. The Irish, in fact, were discouraged by the rebuff which their
' I am here, as elsewhere, reproducing language I have previously used - History of England, iv. 331.
leaders received in France, and by the failure of the Chartists in England. In the former country M. Lamartine told an Irish deputation that it was not meet for France to intervene in the affairs of a country with which she wished to remain at peace. In the latter the energetic measures of the Government prevented the monster procession which had been intended to carry a petition from Kennington to Westminster. Lord John in the first instance had thought that the Chartists might have been permitted to cross Westminster Bridge; and, after delivering their petition at the doors of Parliament, have been turned off by the police to Charing Cross and the Strand." But reflection and consultation showed the dangers of this course; and a Cabinet was hastily summoned, which the Duke of Wellington was invited to attend, at which it was determined to prevent the procession from crossing the bridge. After the Cabinet, the Duke saw Colonel Rowan, one of the Commissioners of Police, and wrote
to Lord John— London: April 6, 1848.
My dear Lord, Since I came to the Horse Guards I have seen Col. Rowan, and we can be prepared to support him in stopping the procession into the town at whatever point may be most convenient to the police and the Government. My own opinion is that it is desirable that the procession should be forced to detach its deputation with its petition at as great a distance as possible from this centre of the communications of Government with the troops and with Parliament, and of the members of both Houses of Parliament. It will be creditable to Government that these communications should not be liable to interruption. It appears to me that the place at which the procession shall be stopped is entirely at the option of Government. Ever yours most sincerely, WELLINGTON
So wrote the first soldier of his generation, with a confidence in his own resources which his successors have not always displayed. On the same evening the Home Secretary stated publicly in Parliament that the Government had directed a Proclamation to be issued warning all loyal and
* Recollections and Suggestions, 252.